Postcodes are a very important, and while they were introduced by the Royal Mail to help develop an efficient method of mail delivery in an increasing population, they have many other important uses in the modern era. This overview gives a brief history of the postcode, their creation and development through the decades, what they are used for today, and some interesting postcode facts.
Postcode history in the UK
The history of the British postcode began in the middle of the 19th century, with the introduction of ten London postal districts, representing the geographical areas of London based in cardinal directions (North, North-East, East, South-East, South and so on) with a larger scope of East Central London and West Central London. This early system was used as a simple and clear method of classifying separate areas, and to help sort and transport mail throughout London and other major UK cities. As the populace increased, in 1917 the sorting districts in London were developed to include smaller subdivisions, a system which was implemented in other cities by the 1930’s.
It was not until the 1950’s that the postcodes we are familiar with today came into being. The reason why they were created was primarily a response to the introduction of automated sorting by the Royal Mail. Special sorting machines were introduced to increase productivity with rapidly increasing amounts of mail being sent nationally and internationally, and modern postcodes were created to speed up the sorting process and to make it more efficient. These postcodes were in a testing phase throughout the 1950’s, with the Royal Mail conducting public survey’s to ascertain the convenience and usefulness of the new system. The postcode introduced was an alphanumeric code, with the first part of the code representing the wider geographical location, and the second part representing a specific street or area. The original plan was to have a six character code, with the first three letters representing the area and the last three to identify an individual address. By 1959, the new system was approved, and the Postmaster General selected Norwich to be the first town to use the new system. By the 60’s, the new postcodes were extended to London, and eventually the rest of the UK. The overhaul was finalised by the 1970’s, and completed soon after.
How Postcodes are designated
A number of things were used to determine the specifics of each postcode. The first letters are usually used to represent the town name. For smaller towns and villages, the first letter usually represents the capital city or town of the shire in question. For example, Bristol is designated by the postcodes BS1, BS2 and so on. London is one of the few cities not to have a representative letter.
Other meanings for postcodes
Given that postcodes split urban and suburban areas apart from one other, and that they are very specific (usually pertaining to a maximum of 80 addresses) it is natural that postcodes have much more meaning than simply the geographical location. Postcodes are used for insurance purposes, and are even taken into account when making a valuation of a property.
Postcode and address data supplied by Royal mail now feed into many types of mail processing software that assist business with their postal needs.